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Paper Trails and CYA

Reading the thread on "distracted managers", it was suggested that if think your manager is making decisions that cast you (rather than the manager) in a bad light that you should get a paper trail to indicate that you were not to blame. This can also extend to user interactions too.

"Alright, but I don't think it's a good idea."

"You really think we shouldn't implement a decent search facility on the forum? Ian might have a problem looking for the comments on vanilla ice cream as he reported before."

"I have stopped testing the archiving process as you requested earlier and preparing to release directly to prod. I'm still a little concerned about the possibility it will delete the ice cream orders with archiving the flavour statistics history though."

Thing is, this is prevention rather than cure. It's like getting off on a technicality. Sure, you did nothing wrong, but "what did you do to help??" is what they're thinking when it all goes wrong. "You didn't make it clear enough." "You misled me." is what they're not saying.

I've been in a situation where a LOT of CYA was essential - I mean absolutely everyone and his brother was doing it - but I could tell that I was considered "non-cooperative" even though I thought I did my best to explain the situation before the problems arose. I'm wary of triggering that sort of reaction again so, although I still archive mails from the Jurassic era, I'll do anything I can to avoid invoking the paper trail doomsday weapon.

Yes there have been exaggerations here, but that's artistic license for you. Anyone else been in situations like this? Any thoughts?

Joel Goodwin
Sunday, June 22, 2003

Well, if your boss is a *good* boss, then a non-confrontational, constructive email detailing why you think something is a bad move should be both CYA and part of the solution. Sending via email serves to protect yourself, but it can also give you an uninterrupted method to present your argument in a supported, well-thought-out rebuttal.

Include links to white papers or other resources.

And finally, when you've written the email, the boss replies saying "nice email, but we're doing it my way" then you can always stick your head in his office and say "by the way, there's a reason I sent that via email..." [grin]

(NOTE: That last step should only be used in extreme circumstances and if you think it's safe)


Sunday, June 22, 2003

Ah, but when you don't have a good boss is when you really need the paper trail. Plus, the situation I came unstuck was when EVERYONE was e-mailing EVERYONE about the smallest item to protect themselves (some of them fairly lengthy too)

Result: Everyone felt absolved as their responsibility had been successfully migrated to mails that no-one ever read.

Another side-effect is that I try to minimize my e-mail output these days to the priority cases.

Joel Goodwin
Sunday, June 22, 2003

It's not CYA. If you're doing your job, you should be alerting your managers and others as to difficulties you foresee anyway.

I've been in numerous situations where memos or warnings issued by me a few months ago turned out to be both correct and prescient and where the existence of those memos ensured there would be no thought of shifting blame away from the true sources.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

I always send email decision/meeting notes.
If it's not in email, it didn't happen.
Both good and bad decisions! Make sure it's not just CYA, but regular behavior.

Note that the email often is a summary, it includes alternatives ("we will remove chocolate from the list of flavors. having a ringing bell go off when the user chose chocolate was considered too disruptive."). but it may not include all of the details involved getting to that point, such as personal political battles.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

way back in the distant past when I worked for bad bosses I adopted a very defensive approach to one boss in particular.
I ignored everything he said if I disagreed with it :)
worked a treat.
Id agree with him, go away and implement the thing the way I wanted it to be done, then came back and explain:
"turned out we couldn't do it that way because of <insert reason it was a stupid idea here>, so I set things up so it worked like this instead <insert brilliant alternative plan here>"

He got recognition that year from the company for the overwhelming success of the project he was managing and I and 3 others were actually working on. :) 
the big pillock...
(in fairness he was managing >1 project and he _was_ a decent guy)

Monday, June 23, 2003

Clear ownership renders this discussion to be a mute point and, for me, is imperative in a working environment.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Clear ownership is a cool concept, but not something you can always fix alone. Some of my "paper trail" e-mails are "who should do this?" "who owns this?"

Joel Goodwin
Monday, June 23, 2003

And I forgot to add "what the hell do you mean *me*???"

Joel Goodwin
Monday, June 23, 2003


I think you just need to hire a good PR firm. When you go to meetings, they'll talk for you like lawyers, and help you craft various e-mails to different people to help smooth things over.
Monday, June 23, 2003

With a name like Yanwoo, I'm assuming English isn't your first language. I would've e-mailed this to you directly but you didn't leave an e-mail address. Sorry. :(

The phrase is "a moot point", not "a mute point".

Brad Wilson (
Monday, June 23, 2003

I think you have to be aware that this works both ways.

Geoff Bennett
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Will throw in one vote for the paper trail, and CYA.

Just got the wrong end of a shaft because I did not cover my ass sufficiently.

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

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